Editorial Note: This month, we want to hold up women working in the Church whose dedication to ministry and service of God and neighbor is nothing short of inspiring. We hope you'll be inspired by their stories too.
Julianne Stanz has dedicated the past two decades of her life to serving the Church in many different capacities. She's an innovative diocesan minister, a national speaker, and an insightful writer whose insights have helped others perform their ministries more effectively. Her leadership is a gift to the Catholic Church.
Can you describe the ministry you perform for the Church?
How long have you been doing this ministry?
For the past 20 years, I have worked directly in and supported various parish ministries at the local, diocesan, and national level. Currently, I serve as Director of Parish Life and Evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay. Previously, I served as Director of Discipleship and Leadership Development, Director of New Evangelization, and Director of Adult Faith Formation for the Diocese of Green Bay. I have served the Church for 8 years in parish ministry, 12 years in Diocesan ministry, and 8 years as a Consultant to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I work with diocesan and parish staff all around the country and also speak at various national and regional gatherings. I have also published three books during my time in ministry, all while raising a family, the newest of which is called Start with Jesus: How Everyday Disciples Will Renew the Church (Loyola Press, 2019).
What brought you to your current ministry?
The short answer to this question is “the grace of God”! I grew up in a small mountainous village in the south of Ireland and during my adolescent years made a pilgrimage to climb Croagh Patrick, one of Ireland’s most sacred places. Croagh Patrick is the mountain where St. Patrick spent 40 days in preparation for his public ministry to the Irish. During this pilgrimage, I gave my heart over to the Lord and asked him to “send me where he willed,” promising that I would serve God’s people wherever I was asked to go. This promise led me to emigrating from Ireland to the U.S. following post-graduate work and culminated with my becoming a citizen of the United States in 2018.
My current ministry is an amalgamation of the various ministries that I have been involved in through the years: religious education, adult faith formation, evangelization, discipleship, and leadership development. I direct the Parish Life and Evangelization Mission Team, which serves the 156 parishes of the Diocese of Green Bay in the areas of evangelization, discipleship, divine worship, Hispanic and multicultural Ministry, parish operations, parish planning, and young adult ministry. The purpose of the Parish Life and Evangelization Mission Team is to joyfully serve, equip, and empower leaders in our parishes to reach all to discover, follow, worship, and share Jesus.
I have served as a Consultant to the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops since 2011, which has given me a unique perspective on the Church, including emceeing the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders” in 2017. This historic gathering of 5,000 leaders was a response to Pope Francis’ exhortation The Joy of the Gospel and one of the most intense and interesting experiences of my life.
What are some of the gifts or graces that you’ve received in performing your ministry? Is there an experience or memory that stands out as particularly formative for you?
It is the people whom I am serving and who teach me every day through their witness to the Catholic faith that are the most important aspect of my faith. This is what drives me—love of Jesus and love for his people.
Through all my years of experience, the moment that transformed how I look at parish life came through the wisdom of my three-year-old son Ian. It was a Sunday morning when I went to wake him up. “What day is it?” he asked sleepily. “It’s Sunday son, that means it’s time for church,” I said. Under the blankets I heard an audible sigh of displeasure. And then he said the words that all Catholic parents dread: “I don’t want to go to Mass.” It was the first time that I had ever heard him say this and so I asked him why. In my mind, I thought about all the reasons why a child might not want to go to Mass: how few children he would see in our church again that weekend, the quietness, the lack of movement, the fact that he often cannot see, the music, the lack of snacks and so on and so on. But my son did not list one of the reasons that I thought he would. “I don’t want to go to church, Mama,” he whispered, “because nobody looks happy there.”
This is a lesson for all of us: if we want out children to become joyful witnesses to their faith, they must see it in us as parents first. If we want our parishes to be places of joy and transformation, we must also see it in our parishioners first.
Our parishes are complex systems, communities within communities that work together but essentially, they are composed of people. It is our people who will renew our parishes, not programs, slick marketing or great resources.
What are some of the challenges you face in your ministry?
Today, as I visit parishes in my own diocese and across the country, there are signs of new life and growth emerging in pockets of diocesan and parish life. However, the reality is that the vast majority of our Catholic parishes cannot even be said to be in maintenance anymore but in decline. It is this resignation to decline and stagnation that I see as one of the biggest challenges that we must overcome with the hope, joy, and confidence of the Gospel.
I believe in the power of the Gospel to transform each one of us and our communities. I believe in our people and I believe in our parishes.
I believe that the Catholic parish is the best nucleus by which we can help people to encounter and be nourished by Jesus Christ, to grow in friendship and solidarity with others, and to be the change that our local communities badly need. Parishes, as communities of faith, are not given to the Catholic Church just for themselves, but are given to the whole world as a source of salt and light (see Matthew 5:13). A place where people are invited, welcomed, nurtured, and uplifted. A family of faith, where people are not just formed but transformed, and then sent out to transform the world. A community where we are challenged to grow, to step outside of our comfort zone, and to be sharpened as “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17). A place where we are called to enter the tomb of our own suffering and the suffering of others and reconcile it to the Cross. A place where Good Friday gives way to Resurrection Sunday. A place where sinners are made into disciples and where disciples are transformed into saints by living out the call to holiness.
Yes there are challenges, but there are blessings and abundant graces too!
What advice would you offer to other people—women especially—who seek to serve in the Church?
Ministry today is exhilarating and exhausting, filled with triumph but also tears. There are days when you will be the first one in the parking lot in the morning and the last one walking to your car at night. You will question and doubt yourself and sometimes even why you have been called to ministry but through it all, if you ask, and you are open, you will feel the Holy Spirit nudging you gently and sometimes not-so-gently forward. Ministry is not easy, but it is filled with unlimited graces and tremendous opportunities for growth and impact. It is important not to romanticize ministry or sanitize the work that you will be called to. Ministry, if it is to be authentic, is gritty, messy but also incredibly beautiful. That is the call to holiness, for men and women alike.
How will you survive? Here are a few tips that might help.
- Keep the words of the Lord near and dear to your heart as you serve in ministry. “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you, he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8).
- Pray always, read the Scriptures, make time for silence, practice good self-care, and know where your boundaries are.
- Find a good spiritual director who will guide you in your journey and help you to listen well to the promptings of the Holy Spirit
- Take time for sacred rest.
For women especially who are currently serving or those who would like to serve in the Church, know that your ministry and witness has tremendous value. Edith Stein (also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) once said that the Church does not need what women have but “who women are.” Be who you are, set the world on fire and do not be afraid!